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WED: State Fair Vaccine Mandate Spurs Concern As State Reports Over 800 New COVID Cases, + More

Morgan Lee
Associated Press
New Mexico Workforce Solutions Secretary Ricky Serna discusses plans for reform to the state's system for distributing unemployment benefits.

New Mexico State Fair Vaccine Mandate Spurs Concern - Associated Press

Some are calling a requirement for everyone attending the upcoming New Mexico State Fair to show proof of vaccination anything but fair.

The mandate was announced Tuesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as part of a new public health order that also requires health care workers and others to get vaccinated within a certain period of time or risk losing their jobs. A statewide mask mandate for all public indoor spaces also was reinstated.

An official with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association said the vaccine requirement for the state fair comes with short notice and may cost some juniors a year of work if they can't get vaccinated in time and aren't allowed to exhibit and sell their animals. 

Cliff Copeland, the association's northeast regional vice president, said the governor's office had given no indication through the summer months that a COVID-19 vaccination would be required to participate at the fair, which begins Sept. 9.


"These exhibitors may not be able to financially afford livestock projects next year if not allowed to show and sell these animals at the current state fair," he said. "There is hardly enough time to become vaccinated and meet the requirements because of the late announcement."

He said the requirement also potentially affects the buyers at the junior livestock sale and even the judges already under contract if they are not vaccinated.

Under the order, nearly everyone eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine must show proof of being fully vaccinated to enter the fairgrounds. There are limited exemptions — for medical, disability or religious reasons — to the state's policy. 

State officials contend the policy will help to protect children under 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

New Mexico School Shooting Suspect To Remain In Custody - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A 13-year-old New Mexico boy accused of shooting and killing a classmate will remain in custody pending trial. 

A Children's Court judge agreed with prosecutors during a virtual hearing Tuesday and ordered the boy to remain at the Bernalillo County Youth Services Center. 

The boy is charged with an open count of murder and unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises. The Associated Press does not generally identify juvenile crime suspects.

The shooting happened during the lunch hour Friday at Washington Middle School in front of numerous students, who had returned for the fall semester just two days earlier. Police have said the victim — 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove — was trying to protect another boy who was being bullied. 

The suspect's court-appointed attorney, Dennica Torres, raised issues of the boy's competency during his initial appearance, saying the teen needs counseling and treatment for mental health issues.

Judge Catherine Begaye ruled that the boy poses a danger to others and noted the allegations against him.

Students returned to school Tuesday to find a bolstered police presence and crisis counselors.

Court records, police reports and witnesses detail the history of the suspect's family with Albuquerque Public Schools and the criminal history of the boy's father, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

In November 2015, an elementary school teacher said she was in a classroom with a parent and her daughter when, without warning, the suspect's mother came into the room and attacked the mother. 

In 2018, a fight between parents that started with words and a fist escalated to poles, bats and gunfire in the student pickup lane outside Highland High School. The suspect's father had shot and wounded another parent, but police never filed any charges after finding that both men had defense claims.

In 2013, the suspect's father was arrested on drug trafficking charges after police found a methamphetamine pipe and several bags of the drug on him. The man told police he was selling meth to get extra money for his daughter's 15th birthday, according to a police report. The case was later dismissed. 

New Mexico Reaches Vaccine Milestone As It Sees Over 800 New COVID Cases- KUNM News

The New Mexico Department of Health Wednesday reported 878 new COVID-19 cases. That’s up from nearly 750 Tuesday. 

Bernalillo County continues to see the highest cases counts by far, with 271 new cases confirmed within the county Wednesday. The only other county with triple digit numbers was Lea with 123. 

Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with 353 individuals receiving care for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. The Santa Fe New Mexican reportsthe state saw a 12 percent rise in hospitalizations between Monday and Tuesday this week. 

Meanwhile, the state also announced that 75% of adults in the state have now received at least their first COVID-19 vaccine shot. About two-thirds of those over 18 are fully vaccinated. 

Residents who receive a shot before August 31st are eligible for a $100 incentive payment. 

The state announced Monday that immunocompromised residents can begin receiving a third dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, though these patients are not eligible for the incentive. 

Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase encouraged New Mexicans with immune-related conditions to discuss the option of a third shot with their primary care provider. 

New Mexico Braces For End Of Federal Unemployment Bonuses – Associated Press

State labor and workforce training officials are bracing for the end of a $300 weekly federal bonus in unemployment benefits that also bolstered income for the self-employed and gig-economy workers in response to the pandemic.


New Mexico officials used an online forum Tuesday to direct people on unemployment rolls toward resources for job postings, career training resources, mock interviews and even free desks and phones at Workforce Connection offices. Supplemental unemployment benefits expire Sept. 4 across New Mexico as related federal programs come to a close.

Workforce Solutions and State Personnel Secretary Ricky Serna said the end of supplemental unemployment benefits predominantly affect the self-employed, contract workers and other so-called gig workers.

Those individuals will have a 30-day grace period to file new claims for retroactive benefits dating back to February. People still waiting on eligibility determinations also can receive payment retroactively after Sept. 4.

The state also is highlighting an available $18 million in scholarship funds for college studies toward a professional certificate, associate degree and more.

New Mexico already has reinstated work-search requirements that were suspended in the depths of the pandemic amid aggressive public health orders that restricted business operations and limited public gatherings.

On Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reinstated mask requirements for public indoor spaces.

About 22 states, mostly led by Republican governors already have pulled the plug on the $300 weekly federal supplemental over concerns that it may discourage people from returning to work when jobs are available. Nationwide about 12 million people currently are receiving unemployment benefits.

Lujan Grisham has vowed to replenish the state's insurance trust fund with federal relief funds to avoid future tax increases to businesses.

New Mexico's unemployment rate fell to 7.9% in June — tied with Connecticut for the highest rate in the nation.

Voters To Decide Bond Question For Proposed Soccer Stadium – Associated Press

It will be up to Albuquerque voters to decide whether they want to foot the bill for a new soccer stadium.

The City Council voted 7-2 Monday to put the bond question on the Nov. 2 ballot following a two-hour debate.

If approved, the city would borrow $50 million for the project. Officials said that would give them enough to build a "bare bones" stadium and they would have to find additional money for something better. Seeking more money from the state Legislature would be one option.

Some critics have questioned the push for a stadium, saying the city should put more money into public safety to address violent crime and Albuquerque's record number of homicides.

Even supportive councilors acknowledged they still had limited information about the city's plans.

"Without question, there are questions, and these questions need to be answered," said Isaac Benton, who co-sponsored the bill to put the issue on the ballot.

Benton amended the measure to express the city's intent to execute a "community benefits agreement" with the neighborhood where a stadium may eventually be built. He said he thinks the project has promise and that the whole city should have a chance to weigh in.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the vote comes less than a month after city-hired consultants completed a feasibility analysis for a potential multiuse stadium.

The analysis assumed a 24-event calendar devoted primarily to the New Mexico United soccer team. It also included two high school sporting events and two potential concerts, though promoters have indicated concert opportunities for the new stadium may be limited.

The city has not completed projections for how much revenue the stadium would bring in.

Contaminated Water Spilled At Los Alamos National Laboratory - Associated Press

Two hundred gallons of contaminated water spilled at the Los Alamos National Laboratory nearly a month ago after a worker failed to close a cooling valve.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the July 19 incident at the lab's plutonium facility caused some of the liquid to flow into an air vent and an inactive glove box used for handling radioactive materials.

The lab said workers discovered mildly radioactive water on the facility's first floor near a pump room and a small amount of water in the basement and that there was no risk to employees or the public.

The spill has spurred an internal probe, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a government watchdog.

The safety board's most recent weekly report said the spill resulted from a worker not closing a valve after refilling a water tank, coupled with another spring-closed valve not clamping shut.

The board expressed concern about the water draining into a vent and then through a glove box, a sealed compartment with attached gloves that workers use to handle radioactive items.

The report suggests an inflow of such water into an active glove box containing radioactive components, debris or residue could be hazardous.

The July spill is much smaller than the 1,800 gallons released in March when a worker also left open a valve. In that incident, an internal alarm failed to alert personnel working in the operations center.

School On Navajo Nation To Stay Remote After Radon Exposure Associated Press

A return to in-person classes at a Navajo Nation school will be on hold indefinitely because of unknown radiation levels, likely caused by decades of uranium mining.

Cody M. Begaye, spokesman for the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education, said the presence of radioactive hotspots inside Cove Day School in Red Valley near the Arizona-Utah border recently came to the department's attention. It's one of dozens of schools operated by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education.

The Navajo Nation Council's Health, Education, and Human Services Committee met with other agencies, including the BIE on Monday to discuss why they were not discovered earlier.

While it's not clear how high the levels are, they were enough to concern tribe officials.

Cove Day School serves students in kindergarten through third grade. The school's 44 students and 13 staff were already working remotely when classes resumed earlier this month. Staff have been using another school nearby, the Red Rock Day School, for essential work like preparing meals to deliver to students.

Uranium contamination is an ongoing issue for the region. A 2019 sample study led by Division of Facilities Management and Construction found five outdoor areas at Cove Day School, including a playground, with contaminated soil.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been leading cleanup efforts. So far, the spot around the playground has been removed but four other sites are awaiting removal.

A spokesman for the U.S. EPA did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Council Delegate Daniel Tso, Health, Education, and Human Services Committee chairman, said he is worried about the danger of long-term exposure for current and former students.

The Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation with portions in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has more than 500 abandoned uranium mines.

Begaye says further radiation tests will be conducted, and a follow-up meeting will be scheduled when the results are known.